Monthly Branch Program, March, 2015

March 11 (Wednesday), 10:00 AM –  “Human Trafficking in Austin and Beyond” – Elizabeth Gaines; Norris Center, Northcross Mall; Contact: Ruth Rubio

The March branch meeting of Austin AAUW focused on an important and violent issue that is particularly related to women—human trafficking. Elizabeth Gaines, MA, explained human trafficking, especially sex trafficking; sensitized the group to various terms used to refer to this population; and discussed the experiences of trafficking victims, in particular domestic minor sex trafficking victims (DMST). Ms. Gaines did an excellent job of conveying the severity of trafficking situations for the girls/women involved and of deepening our understanding of the interpersonal dynamics between pimps and their victims. Ms. Gaines is a staff member of the human service agency in Austin named Allies Against Slavery and is also a member of the Statewide Human Trafficking Mapping Project for Texas, which is a project of the Center for Social Work Research at the University of Texas at Austin. The following is a brief summary of the presentation.

Human trafficking exists in two forms: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Both these forms have international and domestic victims. As defined by federal law, sex trafficking includes elements of force, fraud or coercion; or, the person induced to perform the act is under the age of 18. Even though the stereotype is that victims are from other countries, it is just as common to have victims from the USA. In all cases, trafficking requires the involvement of a third party who is exploiting the girls or women. Ms. Gaines reviewed various terms used to refer to victims, such as prostituted woman, sex worker, and commercially sexually exploited. The terms vary based on whether a person has made a choice about the situation, on whether the practice is legal in the area, on the balance of power in the relevant relationships and other factors. We learned that the most common age of entry into commercial sex in the USA is between 12-14 years old.

Domestic minor sex trafficking is the sexual exploitation of a child in which a third party profits from the commercial sex act and that occurs in the same country where the child was born. DMST is a severe form of violence against children. All children are at risk to be trafficked, however some are at higher risk. Risk factors include poverty, early childhood sexual abuse, homelessness, abusive and neglectful parents, learning disabilities, exposure to domestic violence and others. Multiple studies indicate that 70%-90% of commercially sexually exploited children have a history of child sexual abuse. Ms. Gaines made the point that childhood sexual abuse results in a conflation of sex, love and violence that sets the stage for the abusive and controlling relationship between pimp and victim.

Bringing about change for victims is possible. Resources available in Austin include the following:

  • National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888
  • Austin Police Department Human Trafficking Unit 512-974-4786
  • Central Texas Coalition 512-367-3232
  • Allies Against Slavery

For those interested in exploring this social issue further, please know that Allies Against Slavery is hosting The Slave-Free City Summit in Austin on April 17 -18, 2015. For more information, refer to the website